This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore

THIS TRAIN DON’T STOP THERE ANYMORE…. The federal government had already allocated over $2 billion for a high-speed rail project linking Tampa and Orlando. With Florida’s 12% unemployment rate, the project was poised to give the state a much needed boost — creating tens of thousands of jobs and boosting economic development, with practically no investment needed from the state government.

Yesterday, for reasons that no one can explain, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced he’d refuse to accept the money and would instead allow the jobs to go to some other state.

What I found most interesting yesterday was the reaction from Republican officials in the Sunshine State.

Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican and the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he had tried but failed to talk Mr. Scott out of turning down the project.

Mr. Mica said the “federal government has done everything” it can, including agreeing to put up 90 percent of the rail link’s financing. He added that it “defies logic” that Mr. Scott would cancel the rail line before the state had received bids on the project.

Mica’s frustrations are really just the start. Republican State Senator Thad Altman called the governor’s decision “tragic” and “bad for the people of Florida.” Republican State Senator Paula Dockery said something similar. Republican State Senator Jack Latvala, chairman of Florida’s Senate Transportation Committee, said Rick Scott “cut off our nose to spite our face.”

Democrats, as one might imagine, were even more incensed. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio told reporters, “This is one of the worst decisions that I have ever seen in my 26 years of public life. This is a decision that is clearly based on ideology and not on the facts…. Why in the world would the governor take $2.3 billion worth of investment in our great state and hand it to another state? Why would any governor do that?”

Perhaps my favorite reaction came from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who began a process yesterday to see if the project could be built anyway, whether the governor approves or not. “We have the lawyers researching it,” Nelson told the Palm Beach Post.

It’s an understandable reaction. After all, why should Floridians suffer just because a ridiculous criminal happens to be their governor?

Assuming Nelson is unsuccessful, and that Scott’s refusal effectively ends the prospect of investment, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday the administration “will make sure that that money is used elsewhere to advance the infrastructure and innovation agenda that is essential for economic growth.”

Indeed, some are already lining up for the resources. Immediately after Florida’s governor turned down the money, New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Chuck Schumer (D) wrote the Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, explaining that the Empire State would gladly accept the investment Florida doesn’t want. It’s also likely California will benefit.

It creates an odd short-term future. We may well be looking at a situation in which states that need investment won’t get it, because of the bizarre right-wing ideology of far-right Republican governors. “Blue” states, meanwhile, will in turn be the beneficiary of infrastructure improvements and economic development.

Historically, states competed for these kinds of resources. In the wake of the GOP’s far-right shift, the competition may be limited to a smaller number of states — the ones with Democratic governors.